Rutgers

Penn State follows up miracle buzzer-beater with comfortable win

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Penn State follows up miracle buzzer-beater with comfortable win

BOX SCORE

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Mike Watkins scored 15 points, grabbed a career-high 19 rebounds and Penn State beat Rutgers 60-43 on Saturday.

Tony Carr led Penn State with 16 points and Josh Reaves added 15 for the Nittany Lions (15-8, 5-5 Big Ten), who took control just before halftime for their second straight win.

Issa Thiam scored 12 points for Rutgers (12-11, 2-8), which made just 31 percent of their field goals on 16-of-51 shooting and have lost five of its last six games.

After nine lead changes in the opening 17 minutes, Penn State took the lead for good after Watkins hit a short jumper to spark a 7-0 run. Carr capped it with back-to-back baskets to give Penn State a 28-23 lead at the half.

The Nittany Lions pulled away in the second with an opening 9-0 run and extended their lead to as many as 18 with 2:34 to play.

Big Picture
Rutgers: The Scarlet Knights have played good defense this season, but they're not helping themselves on the other end. Rutgers has shot better than 33 percent from the field just once over its last five games, entered the Bryce Jordan Center ranked last in the Big Ten in scoring and field goal percentage, and began this one 3 of 15 over the first 10 minutes.

Penn State: Coupled with the buzzer-beater at Ohio State, the win gives the Nittany Lions their first set of consecutive victories since winning three straight in December. They're suddenly, with eight games left, just two conference wins away from equaling their best mark in coach Patrick Chambers' seven-year tenure.

Up Next
Rutgers travels to Illinois on Tuesday.

Penn State visits No. 6 Michigan State on Wednesday.

After gut-punch losses, No. 14 Penn State overcomes slow start to beat Rutgers

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After gut-punch losses, No. 14 Penn State overcomes slow start to beat Rutgers

BOX SCORE

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Hangovers? That was apparently something for the folks in the Beaver Stadium parking lots to worry about. Penn State coach James Franklin wasn’t interested in discussing whether his team might have been in the throes of one Saturday afternoon, when it started slowly and then slogged to a workmanlike 35-6 homecoming victory over Rutgers (see observations).

Never mind that the 14th-ranked Lions were coming off back-to-back gut-punch losses, at Ohio State and Michigan State. Never mind that the season’s course appears to be set, that there is a certain resignation about what this outfit, now 8-2, might be able to accomplish.

He was more interested in recalibrating everybody’s sights, making them understand there is still much that can be salvaged, even if a return trip to the Big Ten championship game is a long shot, a berth in the College Football Playoff a near impossibility.

“I think,” he began, “we made progress, and we were able to get a fairly convincing win against a program on the rise.”

Well, yeah, kinda. Rutgers came in with three victories in its last four games and overall has won twice as often as it had while going 2-10 last year. Then the Scarlet Knights moved to a 6-0 lead after a quarter, in part because none of the Lions elected to field the opening kickoff, before PSU yawned, stretched and made its appointed rounds.

Trace McSorley threw for two touchdowns and ran for one. Saquon Barkley, limited to a season-low 35 yards on the ground, nonetheless rushed for two TDs of his own. And later he addressed the season’s expectations, as opposed to the grim realities.

“I visualized going undefeated,” he said. “I visualized everything. But you only get to control what you can control.”

And the games in Columbus and East Lansing slipped through their fingers, in large part because they are lacking on both lines — Franklin went so far as to call their offense “too finesse” after the MSU loss — but also because of a blocked punt here, a roughing-the-passer penalty there, and few dozen completions by J.T. Barrett and Brian Lewerke.

Tough to adjust one’s focus after all that. But outwardly, at least, they are being brave in the attempt.

“We’re 8-2 right now,” Barkley said. “We hold ourselves to such a high standard that everyone thinks this is a bad season. There’s multiple teams that would beg and wish and dream to be in the position we are.”

A 10-2 regular-season finish is still possible. So too is a berth in a New Year’s Day bowl. Scant consolation, maybe, since the Lions were No. 2 in the country heading into the Ohio State game, but consolation nonetheless.

“We’re 8-2, top 15 team in the country,” Barkley said again, “and everyone’s like the season’s going to crap, which realistically it’s not. We all wanted to have an undefeated season, but we didn’t. We lost two games. But now that’s all behind us. All you can really focus on is the last three games that we have and (go about) doing what you can do to win those games.”

No surprise, then, that Barkley fended off questions about his immediate and long-term future — that he would say neither whether he planned to declare for the draft (as expected) nor whether he planned to sit out the bowl game, as two NFL-bound backs, LSU’s Leonard Fournette and Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey, did a year ago.

That’s a discussion for another time, he said, in both cases. More pressing now is whether the Lions can ever knock anybody off the ball. Barkley, working behind a line minus injured tackle Ryan Bates for the second straight week, found little traction against Rutgers. And over the last three weeks, he has managed 141 yards on 49 carries, while seeing his Heisman chances evaporate.

Time and again Franklin has said his team needs to be more physical — on both sides of the ball, but particularly on offense. And when asked whether any strides had been made in that regard Saturday, he didn’t exactly offer a ringing endorsement.

“I think a little bit,” he said, “but I still think that’s an area that we can get better in.”

Barkley’s take on Franklin’s week-old assessment?

“‘Finesse’ means we’re trying to be too flashy and got to grind out the yards and be a little more gritty,” he said. “That’s what I think of when I think ‘finesse.’ ”

He too thought some progress had been made. Baby steps, anyway.

Same for the recalibration process, the resetting of goals. One would think, after all, that the hangover cannot last forever, despite all appearances to the contrary.

No. 14 Penn State vs. Rutgers: Help needed, but still much to play for

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No. 14 Penn State vs. Rutgers: Help needed, but still much to play for

No. 14  Penn State looks to snap a two-game losing streak in its homecoming game.

No. 14 Penn State (7-2, 4-2 Big Ten) vs. Rutgers (4-5, 3-3 Big Ten)
Beaver Stadium, State College, Pennsylvania
Saturday, noon, Big Ten Network

Scouting Penn State
The Nittany Lions have dropped their last two, to Ohio State and Michigan State, by a total of four points. PSU continues to have problems running the ball (despite the presence of one of the nation’s finest backs, Saquon Barkley) and rushing the passer. Barkley, who has rushed for 864 yards (5.7 a pop), has managed 107 yards on 35 attempts the last two weeks. And the defense has allowed 728 yards through the air over that span, while recording exactly four sacks. Barkley does lead the Big Ten with 14 touchdowns and is second in the nation in all-purpose yards per game (195.7).

Scouting Rutgers
The Scarlet Knights have won three of their last four, including last week’s 31-24 victory over Maryland. Gus Edwards, who leads RU with 630 rushing yards, caught the go-ahead 23-yard touchdown pass from Gio Rescigno with 7:30 left. Edwards ran for 109 of the Knights’ 239 yards in the game. Despite Rutgers’ improvement, the Knights went 2-10 last year — in Chris Ash’s first year as head coach — there is obviously work to be done. They are last in the Big Ten in total offense (294.4) and passing offense (127.0), and next-to-last in rushing defense (179.6).

History
The Lions lead the all-time series, 25-2, and have won the last 10 meetings. The score last year in snowy Piscataway was 39-0.

Storyline to watch
As always, the focal point is the Lions’ line play. They are again expected to be without offensive tackle Ryan Bates and defensive end Ryan Buchholz, both of whom suffered undisclosed leg injuries two weeks ago against Ohio State.

What’s at stake
PSU can still win the Big Ten East, with help, and if nothing else can qualify for a New Year’s Day bowl.

Prediction

Penn State 35, Rutgers 7